High School Boys Basketball

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Laura Albanese

Laura Albanese, a Brooklyn native, graduated from Brooklyn College with a major in journalism and a minor in everything in 2007. She joined Newsday as an news-side intern on the Long Island desk that summer and became a part of High School sports department later that year. She has a varied journalistic background, having covered everything from the Brooklyn Supreme Court to girls gymnastics and back again for various outlets, including the Daily News. Her preference, though, remains baseball and soccer. She has yet to master not getting lost in Long Island while on the way to games.

Syosset swimmers' unusual recipe for success

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Syosset girls swimming last year finished in the middle of the pack in Nassau Conference II. It lost a solid core of seniors to graduation, was relegated to Conference III and its roster was overrun with freshmen and sophomores.

A recipe for an undefeated season? Well, apparently.

Led by a medley of a freshman, a transferee from Georgia and emerging sophomore Liz Lu, the 8-0 Braves clinched their first conference title since 2007 in a 108-80 win over previously-undefeated Hewlett earlier on Monday.

"I think in August, when we saw the influx of talent, their confidence really skyrocketed," Syosset coach Rich Powell said. "They really gave us the depth that we needed."

Lu, who won the 100-yard freestyle (0:56.43), the 50-freestyle (0:26.52) and led both the 200-medley and 400-freestyle relay teams to victory, will also compete in the county tournament for a spot on the state team in those events. A few of the girls joining her will be freshmen Jackie Tang (200- and 500-freestyle) and Valerie Catalano (100- and 200-free), and junior Alyssa Chvasta (100-backstroke and butterfly), the Georgia import. Two other sophomores have also qualified for counties in individual events: Kathy Gabinoff (100-breasstroke and 200-IM) and Isabell Henn (backstroke and butterfly).

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Brittany Coughlin close to qualifying for state meet in Ward Melville's swimming victory

Ward Melville's Brittany Coughlin places first in the
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Ward Melville's Brittany Coughlin places first in the 100-yard breaststroke in a time of 1:08.97 on Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014.(Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

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Brittany Coughlin hovers by her spot while the previous race is still going on, slapping her thighs and bouncing on the balls of her feet. When it's time to clamber up to the starting block, her teammates and opponents look frozen in their four-point stance. But she claps her hands, turns her head to the starter, and waits for the call.

She is all energy and anxiety and intensity and that almost, just almost, earned her a long-sought spot on the state team in the 100-yard breaststroke.

"My mind has been set on it all week," the Ward Melville junior said yesterday after an 87-85 win over Commack / Northport. "I've tried making it for two years and for two years, I've missed it by a tenth. It kills me every time . . . But I'm proud of myself, knowing I can make the time [I did] and not even be tapered, I know my time can be even better."

Coughlin, who won in 1:08.97, just .37 shy of the time she needed, will have another two chances to make the state team, in the league and county championships. But for now, she epitomizes the nature of a Ward Melville girls swim team that hopes to win its 23rd straight county title this year: They are their own biggest competition and their own biggest source of pressure.

"It's an extreme amount of pressure," said Sarah Schoenfeld, who's made the state meet before but still needs to make her qualifying time this season (she finished second with a 1:11.03 in the breaststroke). "It's a lot, but it's nice to go in with that record on our backs."

Wednesday, Ward Melville clinched an undefeated League I season, going 6-0. Though the final score was tight, those numbers often have done little to reflect the Patriots' domination this season, as coach Chris Gordon sometimes opts to not compete with his stronger swimmers when a dual-meet victory is in hand. Standouts Wednesday included Jessica Vairo, who won the 50 freestyle in 26.97 and Cassandra Willie, who won the 100 butterfly in 1:00.53 -- less than a second shy of a state-qualifying time.

"Coming on the team with 20-plus years of winning, there is an immense amount of pressure to keep the tradition going and it's crazy," said Casey Gavigan, who already has qualified for the state tournament in the 100 backstroke.

It's a feeling Coughlin knows too well. She said she'll be working on her stroke and fixing "just the little things." Schoenfeld, too, would like nothing more than to go upstate her senior year.

"I've done it in past years, and that's a good sign," she said.

And then, she added the most important part: "I tend to swim well under pressure."

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Kerry Giovanniello lifts Bellmore-Merrick in final dual meet

Anna Schaubeck of Garden City twirls through the
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Anna Schaubeck of Garden City twirls through the air during the diving portion of Nassau girls swimming meet against Bellmore-Merrick at Nassau Aquatic Center on Monday, Oct. 20, 2014.(Credit: James Escher)

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Things go fast in Kerry Giovanniello's world.

One second she's hurling herself into the water as teammates chant her name and the next, she's breaching the surface, gasping for air and smiling all at once, and it's over. Her relay team's pursuit of a spot in the state tournament: over. The fight for Bellmore-Merrick's third straight conference title: over. The final dual meet she will ever swim with this team: over.

Giovanniello, an elite swimmer who previously recorded state qualifying times in the 50- and 200-yard freestyle events, led her Sharks (6-0) to a 3-minute, 40.23-second victory in the 400 freestyle relay in defeating Garden City, 99-85, in a battle of unbeatens in Conference I on Monday. The Trojans took second by a whisper with a state-cut time of 3:40.41.

"Being it's my last season, it was really emotional," Giovanniello said. "And that Kerry cheer . . . and getting first place and touching [Garden City] out, it's amazing. I couldn't have done it without my team."

Giovaniello also took first in the 50 freestyle in 24.69.

Other strong efforts helped Bellmore-Merrick to the dominant win: Paige Kaplan took first in the 200 individual medley (2:09.42) and the 100 butterfly (57.49), and Elizabeth Walsh, a ninth-grader, was second in the 100 butterfly in 59.51.

"She's a lot faster than me, so she pushes me to get my best time, every time," Walsh said of Kaplan, who had previously qualified for the state team in the butterfly and 200 freestyle.

Kaplan said that Walsh proved that Bellmore-Merrick will be "100 percent in good hands" when the 13 seniors graduate this year.

"It's mind-blowing that this is our final dual meet," Giovanniello said. "I can't believe we've all gotten this far, this fast."

You'd think she'd be used to it.

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Jack Hannigan, John Sihpol lead East Islip past Riverhead, 21-14

East Islip QB Jack Hannigan looks to pass
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East Islip QB Jack Hannigan looks to pass in a game against Riverhead on Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014.(Credit: George A. Faella)

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East Islip's Jack Hannigan -- 5-7, 170 pounds -- stood near the 20-yard line, the lone roadblock standing in front of a lumbering Ethan Greenidge, 6-5, 320 pounds.

He braced for impact, and oh, did the impact come.

"It's crazy, he's a huge guy," Hannigan said laughing. "Then the whole team just piled on me and he got in. I was done. He was in the end zone."

The interception return was, perhaps, the only real blip in a satisfying day for Hannigan -- a 21-14 win over Riverhead in Suffolk II -- but it illustrated what coach Sal Ciampi called one of his quarterback's biggest weapons: "He is physically and mentally as tough as any player I've ever coached."

East Islip got on the board in their first series, when Hannigan hit Jake Piacenti on a corner route for a 25-yard score five minutes in. After both team sputtered a bit in the second quarter, John Sihpol picked off a pass on a third-and-5 and sparked East Islip's next scoring series, a six-play, a three-minute, 41 second drive that culminated on Justin Tavares' 5-yard TD run around left end on a reverse play with 1:29 left in the third. Hannigan's 1-yard dive made it 21-0 with 9:38 left.

That's when things got weird.

Ryun Moore broke through the scrum on the ensuing kickoff, deked David Tapley downfield and scored on a 99-yard return. Three plays later, Greenidge popped up from left tackle, snagged Hannigan's pass and charged down the field for a 37-yard score.

Riverhead (4-2) had a final chance to even it up, but a block in the back on their next possession cost them good field position, and Sihpol (eight tackles), causing massive damage at strong safety, picked off another pass to all but seal it.

"This is going to bring us right into the playoffs, beating a great team like this," Sihpol said -- especially considering Riverhead ousted East Islip in the Suffolk final last year.

Ciampi pointed out, though, that this isn't exactly the same team that fell to the Blue Waves last year. Hannigan was injured for most of the playoffs and, Ciampi said, he is the game-changer.

"He allows us to do more than anyone else," Ciampi said. "Physically, he takes a beating and mentally, he's had to deal with me for a couple years . . . if you can do that and have success, you're OK."

And if you can take on someone twice your size and laugh it off later? Well, that's a pretty good indication, too.

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